Despite what our friends at Seton Hall may feel after their one-point loss, South Florida is once again a legitimate Big East basketball team. It's been a couple of years since Dominique Jones led the Bulls to a 9-9 record, even longer since Kentrell Gransberry was Stan Heath's first plus-sized post model.
But after a poor non-conference season and the battle with injuries, the Bulls look like a team that should expect to finish higher than 13th for once.
With a large lineup, some decent quickness, and a sssllloooowww pace, the South Florida Bulls are a load to contend with, a serious spoiler in the parity-filled Big East (see the tempo-neutral look at the Big East from yesterday). Let's find out what on earth is going on down there, what's changed, and how the Bulls get after the rebounds with their size.
Five questions with our man Ken from Voodoo Five, after the jump.
Q. Ok, what they heck is going on? After a pretty poor non-conference season, the Bulls are 3-2 in conference. Is this team legit, as they say in Sports Radio? What are they doing well, what's changed, and is this level of play sustainable?
Everyone is finally healthy for the first time all year. Anthony Collins (5 games), Jawanza Poland (11 games), Augustus Gilchrist (3 games), and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (1 game) have all missed games this year for one reason or another, and even Ron Anderson Jr. and Victor Rudd were extremely limited for about a week when they both came down with strep.
I think that the team has really bought into to playing the half-court style of play needed with our short roster. We can run in spurts, but Heath wants to keep possessions down, play tough defense, and limit second chance points, and the team has responded well to the challenge.
As long as we don't lose another player to injury, I think we can keep up this style of play, and I wouldn't be surprised if we finish somewhere in the middle of the Big East this year.
Q. I am so confused. I thought Blake Nash was supposed to be the game-changing point guard. Now there's an Anthony Collins, and he's a good point guard? Tell us a little about the point guard position and what Collins does well.
Nash has had his moments (most notably his 12 point/6 assist effort in Villanova), but Collins has been one of the big surprises in the conference this year. If I said that he's the exact opposite of Anthony Crater, would that be enough?
No? Ok, here's a brief breakdown.
Collins is an extremely quick PG out of Houston who chose the Bulls over Baylor. He has excellent court vision, attacks defenses to find the open player when they collapse, and is starting to gain confidence shooting the ball. He has this funky runner that somehow goes down. Its not Dominique Jones level good yet, but its getting there.
His defense is excellent, and has extremely quick hands. He's done a good job limiting Shabazz Napier, Jordan Theodore, Maalik Wayns, and Eric Atkins to subpar games. Only Theodore and Wayns went over 10 points, but they had to take a ton of shots to get there.
If there is one thing he needs to work on, its his outside shooting but he's been awesome to watch.
Q. I'm confused again. USF is 3-2 in conference play. The team is in the middle of the pack in shooting, and not getting to the line. So does that mean Gus Gilchrist is still taking deep jumpers instead of working in the post? Can get get shots in the paint? Has his "bad idea" mid range shooting been duplicated by Victor Rudd? And how are the Bulls scoring despite two guys who need a basketball re-education on offense?
Gus is Gus. He will work in the post for a couple of possessions, but more often than not he's 15 feet out on the baseline or at the top of the key taking ill advised shots. Victor Rudd is getting better, but too many times he's jacking up contested three pointers. The difference between last year and this year is the improved play of Ron Anderson Jr. and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick.
Fitzy is by far the best three point shooter on the team and at 6'8 is a matchup problem for most posts. Fitz doesn't mind banging down low as well, but when Collins drives in the lane, its normally Fitzpatrick he finds wide open for a three pointer. If anyone misses, Ron has been right there cleaning up the boards and creating second chance points. Ron's averaging 4.4 OReb in Big East play, and is my favorite player to watch on the court.
Q. Have the Bulls been affected by not having a home for the year? Has interest declined, and is that quiet the reason the Bulls are hitting their free throws?
Not really. UConn is the only team to beat the Bulls at home, and I think they've taken the road warrior mentality to heart. This team was really good at shooting free throws last year, and its just carried over to this season.
Q. Is there more confidence in the future of South Florida basketball?
I don't know why people wouldn't be confident in the future of the program. The new facilities have already helped in bringing in our best recruiting class in years, and we have a solid core of players that will be back next year. If Stan can get this squad to 16 wins and make the NIT, there will be some talk about a possible NCAA tournament run next year.
Q. How do you see this game turning out?
I think the Bulls will win this one. Harkless and Harrison scare me, but USF will control tempo and will slowly pull away. USF wins by 9 and goes two games above .500 in conference play for the first time in school history.